What if there were no reporters (to cover the swine flu)?

So we all take news for granted. We get annoyed when a story is hyped, we get upset when it is ignored. We complain that it is one-sided, we write angry emails to the editor when the news is opinionated.

But what if –just what if– an editor had to cover a big story, and there was no reporter left (due to a downsized staff) to cover it?

This anecdote, a long piece, is definitely worth a read whether you are on the production of consumption of news. Here’s a glimpse:

Editor-in-chief: Timmy! It’s Bowes down at the Clarion, we need you to do a story for us.

Flannagan: (Moans)

Editor-in-Chief: What’s up? You don’t sound good.

Flannagan: I think I got the Swine Flu

Editor-in-chief: Sheesh, you should go see a doctor.

Flannagan: Freelance. No insurance.

Thanks to Kerry Fehr for the link.

Quotes for the week ending 2 May, 2009

“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing. If you’re in a closed aircraft or a closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”

U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden

“Biden takes train after warning family to beware of confined spaces…”

Headline in ChicagoTribune.com on White House damage control over Joe Biden’s statement.

“The swine influenza outbreak makes Twitter more useful and somewhat useless, at the same time.”

Wayne Kurtzman, Media Bullseye

“Apparently the rate of infection is not as widespread as we might have thought.”

José Ángel Córdova, Mexico’s health minister

“Yes. And NO NO NO. Recently we’ve all been guilty of cheap and dirty!”

Lilamani Dias, CEO of LOwe, Sri Lanka, asked whether advertising standards have inproved over the past five years, on the occasion of the annual creative awards, The Chillies

“Social colonization is when every web experience will be social.”

Jeremiah Owyang, on the news about Facebook opening its walled garden to third-party developers.

Bottom line, Carnival should have been ready sooner with a statement and made it easily accessible on its web site. Surely it has a crisis communications plan?

Len Gutman, Editor of ValleyPRBlog, on the the potential cancellation of a crusie to the Mexican Riviera

Too many swine flu experts hyping it up?

I have seen a flurry of responses to the outbreak of swine flu over the past few days, and have to wonder if our ability to monitor and repeat information often overstates the situation /crisis. Or exploit it.

I can say this with some confidence since:

(a) I work at a the Decision Theater, where we have conducted three pandemic flu exercises –the last of which was in February this year.

(b) We have to caution many people who ask, because everyone’s in reactive mode, not realizing that this is still an outbreak, not an epidemic, and still far from being declared a pandemic.

I suppose we could hype up the situation, and claim to be ‘experts’ in the field, just to get media attention. But we won’t go there. It is not in the public interest to add to the uncertainty.

Down-playing. Sort of. If at all, I have had to tell media who call that guess what, Arizona was recently ranked the most prepared state as far as pandemic plans. I also sat in a meeting where one researcher in this field noted that Mexico has some of the most advanced epidemiologists, and that their health care monitoring system was not to be doubted.

I have seen communicators jump into this space. Some in a good way. But as Evgeny Morozov of the Open Society Institute noted, “too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one’s friends do (i.e. tweet about it) or simply gain more popularity.”

Here’s a short list of how some in the industry reacted:

  • On Sunday, while I was monitoring the information on the outbreak (at 10 pm Mountain Time), Gerard Baud pinged me about how his outfit is looking at the crisis, with a short podcast. Unfortunately it was an ad for a tele-seminar that you would have to pay for. I would have preferred if the response, in the public interest, was a free ‘seat’ at the teleconference for at least one person in the organization.
  • Melcrum today published a short but intelligent piece in the Melcrum Hub about an effective crisis communications plan. One of the points they raised seemed so pertinent to the present situation: Stick to the known facts. It’s so easy to go on anecdotal evidence –as in stuff you saw online, repeated by someone who thought she had heard it from a ‘source.’
  • Ragan Communications also published a good piece on it but unfortunately they too have connencted it to a webinar that will cost you $99.
  • Happy to note that IABC is making a teleseminar available free. Details here.

Bottom Line. I know times are tough. But people are also getting sick. There are lots of cities, school districts and healthcare systems who have plans but will like to see what else they could do. I don’t think at this time they should pay for learning about better communications to help their local community and their country.

Hey, that’s just me.